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Kytrek 2 car
During an 8,000-mile test drive known as “Kytrek 2,” Kymeta demonstrated how its KyWay terminal could provide coast-to-coast satellite connectivity for a Toyota RAV4 SUV. (Kymeta Photo)

Kymeta Corp., the flat-panel antenna startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has won key approvals from the Federal Communications Commission and its British counterpart for thousands of satellite antennas and the terminals to go with them.

Until now, the company has been providing its mTenna antennas and KyWay data terminals under the terms of special, temporary or experimental licenses, said Carl Novello, vice president of solutions for the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

“This is the big one that says, ‘Yup, you’re well on your way to commercialization,'” he told GeekWire today.

The FCC issued the blanket license on Aug. 24, authorizing 5,000 terminals for land mobile applications, 1,000 for maritime applications and 5,000 for fixed satellite service.

Land mobile uses could include satellite broadband connectivity for vehicles ranging from automobiles and trucks to buses and rail cars, Maritime would include yachts, which have emerged as an early market for Kymeta. The third category applies to “Internet of Things” applications, such as the ability to set up quick connectivity for construction sites, wind farms or disaster zones.

Kymeta’s antennas are distinctive because they focus on the source of a signal by purely electronic means, without moving parts. The devices, which take advantage of a technology known as metamaterials, are currently about the size of a stop sign but are on track to be miniaturized.

“This is the first time electronically steered, beam-forming flat-panel antenna terminals have been given blanket authorization by the FCC,” Kymeta CEO and President Nathan Kundtz said in a news release.

Meanwhile, Britain’s regulatory agency for communications, known as Ofcom, issued its own indefinite-term, unlimited-installation commercial license for Kymeta’s hardware. That license opens the way for Kymeta to be in operation across a wide swath of jurisdictions.

“Free circulation in European waters means one less hurdle to overcome in the regulatory approval process,” said Håkan Olsson, vice president of maritime at Kymeta.

Novello said “the network is now ready to take to commercial customers.”

“There’s a need,” he told GeekWire. “People in fact are starving for connectivity. … They’re looking for the ‘Easy Button’ for connectivity.”

Kundtz said Kymeta aims to provide that Easy Button.

“The best way to think about our antenna is that it’s like a pizza box that delivers connectivity,” he said. “All you need to do is take it outside, turn it on, and you’re connected. It’s the magic pizza box that delivers the internet, and these approvals are helping us to deliver on our promise of global, mobile communication.”

Novello said the pricing for connectivity depends on the specific circumstances for a given application. In the past, he said, satellite connectivity might have been “orders of magnitude more expensive” than terrestrial communication links such as cable or cellular service.

“This isn’t orders of magnitude anymore,” he said.

Within a matter of weeks, Kymeta is expected to launch a global satellite data service known as Kālo in partnership with satellite operator Intelsat. Kymeta’s other technology partners include Toyota, Inmarsat and Honeywell AerospacePanasonicSharpAirbus and Aurum Security.

Kymeta was spun out from Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures in 2012, and has attracted high-profile investors such as Gates as well as Lux Capital, Liberty Global and the Kresge Foundation. In April, the company said it closed out a $73.5 million investment round, bringing total funding to around $200 million.

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